The USS Wainwright (DD-419) served in the U.S. Navy for approximately six years during the first half of the 20th century. She was named for Commander Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright, his son, Master Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright, Jr., and his cousin, commander Richard Wainwright. This trio of men served in the U.S. Navy during the 19th century. Wainwright was built as a Sims-class ship.
Wainwright was laid down in Norfolk, Virginia at the Norfolk Navy Yard in June 1938. She was launched in June 1939 and commissioned in April 1940, with Lieutenant Commander Thomas L. Lewis at the helm. Wainwright carried a crew of 192 and had a cruising speed of 35 knots. She was armed with five five-inch anti-aircraft guns, four half-inch machine guns, and eight 21-inch torpedo tubes.
Wainwright’s first posting was as a member of FDR’s Neutrality Patrol, established to keep the burgeoning European conflict from spreading. In December 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Wainwright was part of a convoy carrying British and Commonwealth troops around the Cape of Good Hope. After arriving in Capetown, the ship’s time as a neutral force was over: she returned to the U.S. as an official Allied vessel in a time of war.
During much of 1942, Wainwright operated convoys between Iceland, the Orkneys, and Russia, skirting (and occasionally engaging) Kriegsmarine submarines and Luftwaffe planes all the while. In November, she moved to the Middle East to join the invasion of French Morocco, where she saw action off the coast of Casablanca.
In June 1943, Wainwright participated in the July invasion of Sicily. Her next serious engagement came in December, when she encountered a U-593 near Algiers. She successfully attacked the submarine and took the crew on as prisoners, leaving the empty sub to sink.
Wainwright’s final actions as a ship of war included escorts along the eastern seaboard and stops at Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. After the war ended, Wainwright returned to San Diego in December 1945. In 1946, she was used as a target for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. She survived two blasts and was used for testing the aftereffects of atomic bombs. She was officially sunk as a target in July 1948 and was struck from the navy list.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Wainwright (DD-419)
Wainwright installed asbestos in almost all compartments, as an insulating material, as fireproofing, and as a packing material in pumps and valves. Compartments that contained engine machinery also contained larger quantities of asbestos to help offset the heat produced by those systems. Areas where fire safety was critical, including engineering and food preparation areas, usually deployed additional asbestos insulation as well.
Most crewmen stationed or doing repairs on Wainwright were exposed to asbestos fibers to some degree. Breathing of individual asbestos fibers may eventually cause malignant mesothelioma. There is often legal recourse available to veterans and civilian workers with this deadly cancer.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-419.
NavSource Naval History, USS Wainwright (DD-419).